The coronavirus and disintermediation of democracy

by Sergio Baraldi

In Italy, even the health emergency has become a media in itself. The Italian prime minister alone communicates directly on social media and television without facing the institutions and the wider news media and risks increasing anxiety.

The crisis of the Covid-19 virus has given rise to new forms of disintermediated democracy in Italy. The speeches via social media and television of Prime Minister Conte, in the absence of journalists who could ask questions and the suspension of Parliament’s activities have shown how the health emergency has started a process of recasting the relationships between the political class and Italian society. 

Disintermediation means   removing the classic mediations of institutions, political parties and news media. Nevertheless the epidemic has accelerated trends that have been going on for some time. New communication technologies are increasingly used as a channel to get closer to citizens in a direct and personalized relationship. The health emergency and the need for social distancing have favoured their more intensive and extensive use. On the other hand, in a mediated society, the health emergency has also been mediated. In the Prime Minister’s intentions, this method should have reassured citizens and made them feel the presence of the state. But the risk is that it increases the anxiety of a society already worried by the number of victims and from a country forced to declare a temporary “shutdown” of services and production. In this way, in fact, social alarm is reinforced. In reality, a disintermediated democracy appears to have internalized the “media logic” and its dynamic of dramatization, sensationalism and personalization. This communicative style can evoke, beyond the intentions of the prime minister, the spectre of a presidentialization of the head of government. It is as if politics had been infected by anti-politics and used its methods. Perhaps the response to the epidemic crisis should be to make all elements of democracy (institutions, political parties, associations, citizens) participate in the spectacle of a battle that unites us as a country. A story of solidarity is needed, capable of generating identification and indicating shared values ​​as a basis on which to act. Put to the test, at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, we are instead simulating a disintermediated democracy.

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